Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America

By Elizabeth Brown-Guillory | Go to book overview

Ntozake Shange's originality revolutionized the American theater. Her works are interdisciplinary, often focusing on the lives of musicians, dancers, visual and performing artists, etc. Her use of poetry, dance, music, and choreographed lighting is her way of bringing to the American theater the heart and soul of African American traditions. Blacks have traditionally turned to singing and dancing as coping strategies because those areas were open to blacks in white America. Shange's dramatic structure is exciting and innovative and, in at least one play, A Photograph: Lovers in Motion, the poet/playwright merges traditional dramatic structure with identifiable African American self-expression.

Childress, Hansberry, and Shange all chose to write about the pitfalls and progress that their heroines experience as they undergo a personal and often political odyssey. The six stages of growth that appear in these plays reflect life for many African Americans. In a recent Essence interview, the outstanding actress and television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey speaks of her koinonia when she says, "You know, as Black people we all share the same kind of emotional roots. Spending the first six years with my grandmother [in the South] instilled a kind of strength and a belief system in me that I didn't know I had." 54 At another point in the interview, Winfrey again refers to her koinonia by commenting, "I know and understand that I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed over to get here. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madame C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge. Every day that I'm out there I see myself as a resurrection of those women. I feel very strongly about black womanhood. " 55 The interview goes on to provide information about the other stages of growth through which Winfrey journeyed.

Childress, Hansberry, and Shange, in varying degrees, structured their plays around the initiation and survival rituals of African American women who struggle mightily to make their peace with what class bias, sexism, and racism have wrought in their lives. These dark and lovely heroines strive to make themselves whole in spite of the forces that seek to negate their personhood. There are no easy resolutions for these African American women, only continual growing and becoming.


NOTES
1.
Raymond Hull, How to Write a Play ( Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 1983), pp. 9-10.
2.
Stanley Vincent Longman, Composing Drama for Stage and Screen ( Boston, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1986), p. 120.
3.
Hull, p. 13.
4.
C. Hughes Holman, A Handbook to Literature ( New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1972), pp. 173-174. The relation of these parts (the five-part dramatic structure)

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